Tuesday, June 26, 2012

O God We Ponder Your Mercy

Today, Jesus teaches us "Do to others whatever you would have them do to you." It's the golden rule, something we've all heard before, but not something we often live. When someone wrongs us, we want justice. If someone hurt our good name, we want the perpetrator to pay for it. We want vengeance. If someone scratched our car, we want them to pay for it. Or if someone borrowed money from us, we want every penny back. Yet, when we borrow more money than we can return or hurt someone's good name, we want forgiveness. We want mercy and lenience, not justice.

Jesus tells an excellent parable about this. There's a servant who owes his master a lot of money. When the master sees that the servant can't pay back his debt, he is kind and merciful and forgives the debts of the servant. However, the servant then goes and finds those who him a much smaller amount. He abuses and threatens these people, demanding that they pay up. He has this double standard of mercy where he can receive mercy while denying it to others.

The parable makes it clear that not doing to others whatever you would have them do to you threatens your salvation. The parable concludes that the servant is delivered to the jailers until he pays the whole debt. Jesus admonishes us "So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart" (Mt. 18:25).

Our salvation is not won by faith alone. Salvation cannot be had apart from grace and faith, but works of mercy are an essential ingredient. But how can this be? Heaven is beyond the power of every human person. There is no act that we could do on our own to merit an eternal reward. Eternal life can only be given as a free gift from God; it is not a payment for something that is due to us.

As Catholics, we maintain that our salvation is by grace alone through faith and works. As I've said before, God freely bestows His grace by uniting Himself to the inner most being of ourselves and stamping us with his image. This is God's grace: it is the transformation of our interior life to conform us to the life of Jesus. By God's grace we begin to know and love God like Jesus knows and loves his Father. This can happen to such a degree that St. Paul says of himself, "it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" (Gal 2:20).

This is one of my favorite quotes from Scripture because it succinctly proclaims the radical good news of the Gospel. By virtue of the graces that come to us in Baptism, Jesus lives and reigns in us. We are transformed from our old ways of sin and death into a divine life. We live now in the power of the Spirit no longer performing merely human acts of virtue, but divine acts. My brothers and sisters, we have the power to live like God.

When we keep this in mind, we can see our salvation is won by both grace and good works. If I do the work on my own, I might not deserve an eternal reward, but if it is Christ who works in me, then our Father will richly reward us. We have "become partakers in the divine nature" (2 Pt. 1:3). This is what God's grace accomplishes by stamping us with His own image: it makes us to share in the very being of God. It is obvious that I could not do that on my own, but it is also obvious that an act done out of our participation in the Divine nature is cries out for a super natural reward.

But often we choose not to act out of divine life given to us as a gift. When God shows us great mercy, we fail to show others mercy. We fail to do onto others as we would have them do onto us. That's why the gate to Heaven is narrow, but the gate which leads to destruction is wide and broad. Those are sobering words from Jesus, but keep in mind the good news. Jesus has given you the power to be children of God in your baptism, and every day you come before the altar to receive Holy Communion He renews that grace in you. Therefore, approach God in confidence, knowing that whenever you encounter the temptation to be selfish or are afraid of doing what's right and pleasing in the sight of God, our God is here to save.

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